Does C|Net Launching a Newsreader Make Sense?

This whole C|Net newsreader announcement has really caught my attention. Before I launch into my own musings, I’d like to say thanks to Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion for posting this first. He appears to be the prime mover in the blogosphere on this topic. The more I read about this announcement, the more it sounds like “why every web property has to be a portal part II”, the redux of the portal craze in the “old days” of the Internet.

First things first — I love C|Net. I love it so much that I frequently end up blogging things that I find on their site. But I am scratching my head over why they feel the need (or see the opportunity in) launching a newsreader. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a rabid fan of Newsgator as I live in Outlook. However, I am not sure why I would want to use C|Net as a news aggregator. Why? Well, I would like to separate my decision as to which aggregation product I will use from the content sources to which I subscribe.

I used to work at Excite way back when. This whole movement seems eerily similar. Back in Portal 1.0 days, everyone (and I mean everyone) thought that being a portal was the key to riches and fame. So everyone tried to be a portal. And who won? Ultimately, the most succesful portals were those sites who offered valuable services such as search and community(Yahoo!, AOL, and Lycos and Excite to a lesser extent), not the content providers. Sure, some people use CNN or NYT as their “portal” or start page, but the bulk of traffic wound up getting shifted toward those people who had more to offer than just content.

I don’t say this to disparage the value of content. It is what drives the value of this medium. However, I struggle to see why any avant-garde Internet user would want to tie his or her choice of aggregator to a given content provider. The very value of aggregation products is that they allow you to be notified of and consume content without having to spend ungodly amounts of time on any one site.

Ultimately, I think that a lot of the existing destination sites (Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Ask Jeeves, etc.) will end up dominating the market in this space, with a few of the product companies (NewsGator, the recently-acquired Bloglines, etc.) making meaningful contributions to product offerings of “the bigs”. But if it didn’t cost C|Net a lot to develop and roll out Newsburst, I applaud them for putting something out there to test the theory that content producers cannot be major players in the aggregation space.

Good luck to C|Net. I hope they succeed. They are one of the few niche destination sites with the gravitas to be both a producer and aggregator of content.

I received the following response to this post from John Roberts at CNet and I thought it was worth reposting. Thanks to John for writing back:

Charles, sorry it took me so long to find your post. Appreciate your
kind words about the news and information that CNET provides. That
continues.

Newsburst is simply the next step in providing a service to readers,
much as has been done with More news around the web on the front door
of News.com for the last eight years… albeit at a different scale.
There is no attempt to tie your content choices to CNET Networks
properties, though we’re not hiding our affiliation, and we will make
sure readers are aware of our offerings. But your question about why
anyone would “tie his or her choice of aggregator to a given content
provider” is the wrong question, I would argue. The point is: what’s
the best service for you to consume news and information in the most
efficient and/or enjoyable way possible?

I agree that there will be (there are) many aggregators. We’re working
to make sure Newsburst is one of the ones people use. I welcome your
thoughts and comments on the service itself, should you find time to
try it. Import and export of OPML supported.

Cheers,

John Roberts
CNET News.com product development

p.s. The red logo notwithstanding, we write CNET without the pipe
character, and in all caps. But that appears to be the exception across
the web. 😉

Comments? Email me at blog @ charleshudson.net.